METUKER RA BISECH – YAPESE QUARRIED STONE MONEY SITE

Balang at Metuker ra Bisech, is a large carved Yapese stone money disk on the island of Metuker ra Bisech, Ngerusar in Airai.   The stone disk apparently had been broken while transporting it to the coast and now lies at the head of a small ravine on the coralline limestone island.  The route of the trail to the site is shown in the map.  It begins at the edge cliff face for about 10 meters.  The stone disk is lying flat on a ledge some 3 meters above a quarried area.   The disk is approximately 3.5 meters in diameter, 20 centimeters thick, and teh center hole is approximately 20 centimeters in diameter, making it one of the largest such pieces quarried in the Palau Rock Islands.  The stone disk appears to be made from aragonite.  A small piece of a stone has been broken off.

Oral History (1)

Yapese myths say that a man Anagumang, was the ancient navigator who found the limestone caves of Palau and returned to Yap with the first stone money.  Anagumang legend says, first ordered the men to cut the pieces of store money in the shape of a fish.  Not satisfied,  he had them cut in the shape of a crescent moon.  Finally, he settled on a piece shape like a full moon with a hole cut in it for carrying, and brought it to Yap.  The first money was small and may have been used as ornaments or jewelry.  The hard, sparkling rock from which the money was quarried is unlike anything found in Yap.  Geologists identified two type of stones, aragonite and crystalline calcite-both as hard as marble; the material forms the colorful, glistening walls of limestone caverns in Palau.   Hundreds of voyages followed Anagumang’s initial excursion.  The Yapese, themselves had to gain permission from the Palauan chiefs of the villages in which the quarry they wanted to use lay.  Some returned, others did not.  The hazards of of the 250 miles journey to Palau in tiny canoes gave the money its value.  Even with the best weather and the finest canoe, the trip too a week, and the conditions often were far from ideal.  An entire expedition could be lost in a storm.  Often pieces of the money were given the names of men who died bringing it to Yap, and stories of their deeds passed along with the money.  The arrival of western traders in the late 1800s removed many of the hardships from the large quest for stone money.  In exchange for copra, traders would allow their large ships to be used to bring stone money from Palau.  The best remembered trader was Irish-American, David O’Keefe, who “was forced to resort to the Ibedul and the Koror chiefs, since the stone quarries at which his Yapese mined their money all lay under Koror’s jurisdiction” (Hezel, 1983).  “With as many as 400 men working i the Palau quarries at one time and O’Keefe’s schooners scurrying  back and forth between the islands, stone money was reaching Yap in unprecedented size and quantity” (Hezel, 1983).  The voyages for stone money ended at the turn of the century with the disappearance of O’Keefe and with the curbs imposed by the German administration on open canoe voyages.

Oral History (2)

Another oral history reports that the Yapese people were searching  all over the islands for something they could make into their money.  Finally among Palau’s Rock Islands, they found large limestone rocks called Balang.   After they chose the beautiful rock that was to be carved into money, they began to think of what was to be the shape of this money.  At first they though they should make tin the shape of hte brave fish of the sea, the shark.  The shape was good but was too long, and that made the money brittle.   They kept searching and trying to think of the shape of their money.  They grew tired and weary.  Finally darkness fell and the moon rose up behind the top of the palm trees.  They looked and then began to dance, sing, and praise the round full moon because htat was to be the shpae of their money.   With their adze tools, they carved the rock into large round shapes and made a hole in the center so that the heavy money could be carried by men on poles.   The money was then loaded onto canoes and rafts and carried across the sea, north to the distant islands of Yap.

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